When life gives you grey, cool days fight back with bright colours, gingerbread and a party. Well something like that.
November is the month when the days are shorter and colder. We think longingly of summer vacation, are bogged down in back to school routines, or for some, try to come to terms with their new empty nest. Depression spikes, nostalgia seems sullen instead of heartwarming and the excitement of Christmas hasn’t quite peaked.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or winter depression is a subtype of depression that’s related to changes in seasons. According to Kidshealth.org it is more common in older teens and young adults and is not well documented in younger children.
Women are four times more likely to be affected and overall 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the population suffers from some level of seasonal depression. It is often assumed that SADs is a winter condition, but the effects can kick in as early as October, depending on the year and the weather.
There is no known cause for SAD. HealthlyChildren.org describes a disruption of a person’s circadian rhythm — the body’s natural cycle of sleeping and waking as being a probable cause for the disorder. The website states, “As the days shorten, the decreasing amount of light can throw off the body’s natural clock, triggering depression. Sunlight also plays a role in the brain’s production of melatonin and serotonin. Researchers do not know why some people are more susceptible to SAD than others.”
As with any form of depression, the affects can be mild, moderate or severe. Sara Dimerman, author of How to Influence Your Kids for Good, suggest “If it’s fairly intense and it’s been going on for a while — 10 days to two weeks — then I would speak to a family doctor to start to get a referral for a psychiatric evaluation, just to make sure that there’s nothing else going on.”
For milder cases of the winter blahs here are some tips to help bring back the sunshine.
Set an example and stay positive.
If your children sense your stress, hear you complaining about short days or cold weather they will model that behaviour. Be a winter cheerleader and encourage your children to embrace all the fun they can have on cold fall and winter days.
Open the curtains and get as much sunlight as you can. An early morning walk can be a great opportunity to get some fresh air and sunshine as a family. When the snow comes add snowball fights, tobogganing and snowman building to your weekly routine.
Maintain a sleep routine.
It’s easy enough with dark mornings and afternoons to feel groggy midday or first thing and yet have trouble falling asleep at night. It’s no different for children. Make sure you establish a nighttime routine that helps them settle into a restful night’s sleep.
Enjoy quality time together.
Being stuck inside, winter commutes, constant shovelling can all lead to you feeling overwhelmed. Find little ways to enjoy the everyday with each other. Plan a weekly game night, host a monthly dinner party. Even something as simple as “Taco Tuesday” can give everyone something to look forward to.
Keep traditions alive.
Baking together will fill your home with sweet smells and yummy treats and can’t help but make everyone more cheerful. The smell of cinnamon and hot apple cider is full of nostalgia for many of us and can become family traditions that we can share with our own children.
Exercise is known to help release serotonin and promote good energy and mood. Aside from fun outside, why not take up a weekly dance class or a family work out? In Carleton Place, places like Carleton Place Gymnastics and Hollywood Fit Studios have programming geared for the whole family to enjoy very affordably.
Rushing to get ready in the morning, especially with added winter gear, can add stress to your morning. Start the day off with a good healthy breakfast and a calm routine to get out the door. Set your alarm a little earlier to give yourself plenty of time to get ready.
Plan a winter getaway.
If getting away someplace far isn’t in the cards (or the budget) then make it a day trip to local pool. A family swim in the warm pool can certainly make you forget about the cold day outside.
Check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Learning to manage your own stress will help your children as much as it helps you. Not only will it help your household run more smoothly, it will make solving problems easier, and give your kids a great example of the behaviors you’d like to encourage in them.
Depression can be a serious problem for adults and children regardless of the season. Shifts in a child’s mood and attitude are not something to ignore. If you or your children experience abrupt and severe changes in mode, lack of enjoyment or interest in everyday activities then it is always best to discuss these symptoms with your family physician, pediatrician or therapist.
For less serious cases when you start to feel a little stressed and anxious, remember this fact from the Canadian Mental Health Association & The Psychology Foundation of Canada: the physical feelings we experience from stress and anxiety – butterflies in the stomach, tense muscles, faster breathing and heartbeat, thoughts racing – are the same feelings we get from excitement and celebration.
It’s all about perspective!